Long Distance Thoughts

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July 3, 2020 By Paul Hornstein

When I write these blog posts they are supposed to be about hockey…Well, I guess this will be, but it just doesn’t seem like it.

We, at IceTime Hockey SW just finished a week of podcasts dedicated to giving players of color a chance to tell us their experiences in the game. Yeah, I know, ASU Assistant AD Scottie Graham played in the NFL not in the NHL, but his story is not out of the ordinary. As a kid growing up on Long Island, he would pass the New York Islanders practice facility every day on his way to school etc. At that time, the Islanders (always have been and will be my team, much to my late father’s, the Rangers’ fan chagrin) were in the middle of the greatest dynasty in the history of the NHL. Canadiens &
Oilers’ fans get over it. At that time, Scottie was dying to play hockey. He would play whenever he could, but for him, there was never a chance to see how far he could go, had he had the long-term opportunity to play. Hockey is expensive, but more than that, I cannot imagine, even in the early 80s, what it would be like for PoC to get on the ice, and deal with what he would have had to deal with.

Think of it, until a month ago, pandemic notwithstanding, what you would have heard in the stands when parents with “Little League Syndrome” would have said noticing a player of color on the ice. Especially if that player was kicking their tucchuses all over the ice…And don’t think it wouldn’t because it has. There have been plenty of documented cases where a child who has parents of mixed races hearing those things
because the Caucasian parent was in the stands. I can’t imagine wanting to deal with that every day in the rink, on top of what you deal in life. Time at the rink is supposed to be a safe place. We are only now finding out what some of the players that have made it to the NCAA level, or the professional level have had to deal with in their journeys.

Look, it is okay to be caught off guard by seeing a player of color on the ice. I have been watching hockey for fifty years, and I still am. It’s how you react when you see it. When I saw closeups of players like Grant Fuhr or Tony McKegney, my reaction would be, “Is he black? Whoa! That’s cool. That was not and still is not a universal reaction. Ask 12-year NHL vet Wayne Simmonds.

So, is all of this the fault of the game itself? No. Until the Lake Placid Olympics in 1980, 95%+ of the players were from Canada. The non-Caucasian population of Canada at the time, was about 3%. So the odds of there being many PoC at that time were minimal. Since the “Miracle on Ice” & the breaking down of the Iron Curtain, the percentage of Canadians in the NHL has dropped to about 65%. The number of US players, where there is a much higher percentage of people of color, is about 30%, so

the chance of there being more players of color at younger ages has increased, but has it? The expense and exposure won’t let it.

Ice time is very expensive, forget the equipment for now, the ice availability is gigantic issue. In the US there are very few places where the local waters get frozen enough for the kids to just play. So ice availability is an issue. Unlike Canada, every town does not have a rink. Even here on Long Island, there are a dozen rinks to serve eight million people.

Even in places like Las Vegas and Seattle where the team owners are investing millions in rinks, it won’t be enough. When ASU finally opens up it’s facility on campus, there will be two sheets of ice. The second one, where they will practice occasionally is supposed to be available to the public, and I promise, it will always be in use. There are couple of things the NHL can easily control. Get PoC in the building. Do what it takes. Go to the community, provide those lesser economically advantaged neighborhoods, which tend to places of color, and say “here, we want to expose you to
our game”. Find a random night during the year, and provide the transportation, the tickets, and some food vouchers. Give them t-shirts. Not the crappy paper thin kind that fall apart in a wash or two, but good quality ones. Any hockey fan knows, being there is the best experience in sports. Then be proactive, give them a reason to think you really want to grow the game (even though you should not have to fake it) Go back to that community and ask what else can we do, who can we go to next?

Some cities have great minority programs, none better than Neal Henderson’s Fort
Dupont program in Washington, DC. I don’t know why every team in the US doesn’t
start its own. These are investments. Will they pay off right away? Probably not, but so
what? How much money have teams wasted in giving players stupid contracts over the
years?

How about going to Joel Ward, who played forever in the NHL and recently retired, and
saying “Hey Joel, we would like to hire you for a new outreach program.” We want to
have you go into schools, in minority neighborhoods, and lets get those PE classes to
do a floor hockey unit. Go into a school, get the teachers on board, and teach the
teachers how to do it. I promise, if you walk into a junior high or high school with a
truckload of equipment, that school and the teachers will NOT say no. Spend a week
or two teaching the teachers, then stick around a week or two as a mentor, let the kids
see that this is about more than just equipment.

These are just the rantings of a crazy man, who can do a good job of spending other
people’s money, but they are ideas. Small ones that are expensive, I know, but they
are thoughts. Maybe one triggers an idea from someone else that spawns the idea that
actually hits the mark.

Finally, the media landscape is not simple any more. It is so splintered & niche, I am
not sure how they could this, especially since the media in the US is not like the media
in Canada. The CBC (Canadian Broadcast Corporation) still exists. If you are not sure
of what that is, just think about the BBC, except in Canada. Anyway, the CBC has a
version of the legendary Hockey Night in Canada (which started long before TV)
broadcast in Punjabi. The NHL already has a contract with NBC/Universal, which is
likely to be extended as soon as a new CBA is agreed to, and guess what…one of the
networks that it owns is Telemundo. Give them a game a week. Make a big deal out of
it. The Hispanic population is the fastest growing ethic population in the country. How
is it, that with the slow but steady success of the Punjabi broadcasts in Canada, that no
one in the NHL has thought of putting a game of the week into their contract with NBC?
They’ve done an all-female broadcast from the broadcast truck to the booth, they can’t
do it for a Hispanic broadcast? You can run ads with Auston Matthews (if he speaks
Spanish, which I am told he does). Tell the network, you’ll pay the production costs. If I,
sitting at my kitchen table can think of this, why can’t they? Get guys like Kevin
Weekes or Anson Carter to sit down with say, James Harden (they just have to make
sure he’s wearing ASU gear. I am sure that Coach Powers would be able to get him
some) and do a YouTube series on how to watch the game on TV (by the way, the key
is following the players, not the puck). The players will tell you where the puck is.
I am sure that there are other things that can be done, but I don’t write the checks. I
am, to borrow a phrase, an idea man. And I thought of those ideas with a minimal of
thought. I know this heaps a ton of responsibility on the NHL, but you are the Big
Dogs…

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